When the Leaves Fall: Loss, Grief & Facing Tomorrow

It was almost a typical Monday. I woke up, drove to work, sat down at my desk, and sipped a cup of hot coffee. One thing that was definitely different than the previous Monday was the weather: dark gray clouds, ominous with the smell of rain, hovered outside the window. It was the Fall Equinox after all, and nature was fittingly showing off her punctuality.

I felt as if I had gone to bed the night before still in the dreamy arms of summer, only to wake up at fall’s feet a day later. But that wasn’t the only thing that caught me off guard. That morning, a message from a friend in Europe was waiting in my inbox with a request I couldn’t have anticipated.

She asked me to write a love letter to a family member who needed something to hold onto — a reason to keep going after the sudden death of her best friend had turned everything painfully inside out, and upside down.

I was stunned first, and then sad second, and then I got down to business. I spent two days thinking about what I’d write. What could I possibly say that could help?

I don’t have the answers; that’s the first conclusion I came to. And although I’ve been wracked with grief myself at the loss of several friends over the past few years, and most recently, my beloved writing mentor, I’m aware that loss touches us in such different and personal ways. There is no “one-size-fits-all” advice to give when it comes to grief. And yet, I was being asked to offer something to a stranger that would somehow encourage her to keep moving forward and still find the beauty in living.

This is not the only person that has been brought to my attention who is currently experiencing loss and change. At this time of year especially, it feels as if a hand has silently grasped the veil of summer’s illusions and pulled it aside, revealing a plainer, much harsher truth. Relationships are ending. Paths are shifting. Souls are departing. But just as there is no problem that exists without a solution, the shadow of life cannot exist without light. These illusions are being shaken loose so we can reconnect with our most primal existence and remember that life is a yin and yang of life and death, love and suffering.

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” -Khalil Gibran

It goes without saying that it’s a tough time for many. The only salve I know of is to take hands with those you love and share the load. We’re in this together.

And in that spirit, I sat on my blue and white bedspread and wrote my 28th* love letter, which I promptly sent through the internet to a country approximately 5, 298 miles away.

With the permission of my friend, I’ve pasted it below. Please note that I’ve changed the name of the letter’s recipient in order to protect her privacy. My hope is that if you are reading this, and you too are suffering a loss of great proportion, this helps ease some of the pain, if even for a few minutes.

Birds Flying

Dear Anna,

I met your sister in a hostel just over a year ago. When I saw her from across the room, she was a glowing mass of passion and energy – a force of spirit. And I am so glad I got to travel with her. Out of her love for you, Anna, she asked me if I’d write you a love letter, because she tells me you are going through a very difficult time — an unimaginably painful time.

I’ve been thinking about you for the last two days, wondering how I can possibly comfort you with my words when you must be feeling as if the world has torn a piece right out of your heart. Darling, I want to tell you that the only beautiful thing that comes from loss is this: you feel your beating heart, albeit its being full of sadness and grief, it’s yours, and it’s beating for a reason. There’s a purpose for your soul here on earth, and this immense trial in your life may be a part of it. Perhaps now some comfort will come from reading other people’s stories of loss. Look to those who have been torn open, but somehow made it through to the other side. Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild” is one of those people. She writes matter-of-factly about the process of grief:

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” -Cheryl Strayed

My advice is to let the grief exist. No need to fight it. This is your experience, and it’s real, and it’s valid. It’s also 100% natural. There’s no one way to feel grief, so don’t believe the books that tell you about the stages and try to estimate how long it will take to move on. This isn’t a matter of logicality; it’s a deeply personal matter of the heart. The process of grief is one of the core experiences that makes you human and connects you to people all across the globe who also know what it feels like to have lost someone they loved very much.

As difficult as it feels now, one day you will wake up with a little less pain than the day before. Gradually, after many days and months, and years, you will gain a strength you never knew you were capable of. And that strength will guide you to put one foot in front of the other and practice living again, until one day, you’ll feel love bloom in your heart, and you will risk caring about another person as much as you did about your friend. This is how you will know that you’re healing.

Until then, darling, there will be a lot of very difficult days. Unfortunately, no one can protect you from them, so you just have to hold onto what good things you can (like your family, a big oak tree, a walk by a stream, your favorite music, etc.) and ride your emotions like the brave woman you are. You are surrounded by people who love you and want to be there for you. Take their hands when you can. You don’t ever have to do this on your own; although no one can take the pain away, sharing your thoughts and feelings with others will help a lot.

Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, you will find a way to make peace with your friend leaving too soon. But in order for acceptance to come, you’ll have to do some soul searching and reading, and deep thinking about what you think life and death are about, and find a way of making sense of things for yourself. This might take a very long time, and understandably so. It’s okay to ask god, or friends, or family, or yourself the same questions over and over again, and not have any immediate answers. Humans spend their lifetimes trying to understand why things are the way they are.

Still, it won’t change the fact that they are the way they are. And that’s why sorting it out the best you can by establishing your own philosophy will give you a very important pathway to navigate your sadness by. This is what spirituality and religion exist for – they provide a light for you to walk beneath when you are lost in unimaginable darkness.

And on that topic, the universe cannot exist without light. What that means is there will be good things to come for you, Anna. This is not the end. It’s just the beginning of something different. You will get through to the other side.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to you. You are experiencing one of the most difficult aspects of being alive, and it fucking sucks. That is undeniable.

But the light is still all around you and within you, and someday soon, you’ll be able to see it again; of this, I am 100% certain!

Love to you,
Abby

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.

This is what I imagine the landscape of healing might look like before plants break through and bloom in your heart.

The 27th Love Letter

I was recently asked by a stranger if I would write my 27th* Love Letter to him.

He wrote that he is deflated, and I believed him, because, who hasn’t felt that way at times? I know I have.

He wrote that he is ready to stop missing out on things, and thus, he’s starting fresh. And I understood completely.

With a move across the country pending, I pictured him standing at the edge of the canyon that we all stand at when we’re about to make a big change in our lives. It can be scary. It will be uncertain. It takes courage.

And because I couldn’t think of a single reason not to write this stranger a love letter, I closed my eyes and began typing.

So here is my 27th Love Letter, and it’s as much for you and me, as it is for him.

Dear Stranger,

When the slope is steep and the butterflies all seem to be flying away when you wish they’d stay, just remember that the view from the top will be a fresh and beautiful beginning; a new start. A door is waiting and your knocking is the call; don’t stop just before the lover opens the door! Stay awhile; press your ear against the wooden grain, run your fingers across the handle, and smile, because this mystery of unlocking life and love is the gift of the wind in your lungs and the dreams in your mind. It is all working out perfectly, believe it or not.

Let the soft parts of your heart be seen. Too often we wear our armor and yet, we hope our shoulders will be soft and glowing and nurturing enough for the butterfly to pause and rest awhile. Vulnerability, as unpleasant the sound of it, is the trail, the door, and the knocking. It is also the mountain. If your words are the expression of your truth, then your hands are the doing of your love. With these two together, there is nothing that can stop you from achieving your happiest life. It all comes down to trust.

So hear this dear stranger: trust that the view from the top will be greater than anything you can picture now, because it’s the journey that changes your eyes. The alchemy of the journey is absolutely fool-proof. Follow it, breathe it, believe in it. And by it, I mean YOU. Trust your heart.

Love,

A Friend You Haven’t Met Yet

Heart

Please note: several lines in my letter were inspired by the Rumi poem, “The Sunrise Ruby”.

26 Love Letters for My 26th Year

Today I turn 26 years old.

It was a rainy day on Thursday, but there was an unusual quality to the light that morning – as if the clouds were being lit from inside and the sky was a burning candle. I trotted up the street to a little coffee shop where you can get a slice of pie with your joe. I talked on the phone with my Dad on the way, and our conversation got me thinking…Thinking about turning 26 and how far I’ve come. Thinking of how even though I’ve struggled at times, the world manages to keep on showing me unimaginable beauty in the littlest of things. Thinking of all the people who contribute to my happiness and well-being — my family, my friends, even complete strangers who do something as simple and as important as smile back. Thinking “damn, I’m SO grateful!” And then I was hit smack-dab in the face with an idea. Right away, I knew it was a good one because it made my toes feel tingly and my heart uplifted.

I texted my housemate, Amber, to see if she’d help me. I received an energetic ‘Yes!’ and so the project began: 26 hand-written love letters to represent 26 beautiful years of living on this planet.

An organization in New York City called The World Needs More Love Letters is doing some pretty fantastic things, and when I happened across their website, I was struck with inspiration!

Writing letters felt like the perfect way to celebrate my birthday and to express my gratitude for the kindness and general magic I’ve been very blessed to receive over the years. What I want out of the project is this: to spread more goodness and touch hearts.

Amber and I began crafting letters to strangers at our dining room table, filling them with words of encouragement, wisdom and love (plus some pretty awesome doodles and stamps). We signed them “from a friend you have yet to meet” or “from a stranger who cares.” They’re anonymous and meant for whoever finds them, destined to fall into the hands who need them most in any given moment in time. They’re intended to represent little signs of life’s blessings. And we like to believe they could have the power to change the course of someone’s day, maybe even life. You never know! It could happen.

I even got my co-workers to help me out with the project. During a break at the office, we pulled out colored pens and scrawled love-words onto blank pages. We drew hearts. We laughed as we read them aloud to each other before folding them up and daydreaming about who would open them.

Today Amber and I set out to scatter the letters. It was a day full of smiles as we completed stealth love-letter missions, hiding them all over the city. We put a letter in a row of seed packets at the Portland Nursery and another in a garden fairy scene, tucked between tiny houses and lanterns. We hid them between movies in our favorite foreign film sections of the video store. We tucked them into books that held significance for us at Powell’s and in rows of greeting cards. We even taped one letter to a coffee shop’s bathroom mirror.

My favorite letter delivery of the day was when we drove up to Mt. Tabor (a lovely nature getaway in Southeast Portland) intending to leave a note in a plastic ziplock bag on a hiker’s car. Unfortunately, the rain had kept hikers away and there weren’t any cars, so Amber set out to leave the note near the trailhead. That’s when, out of the blue, a lone runner came jogging toward her; she glanced back at me, a question mark on her face. “Do it!” I yelled, cheering her on. And so just as he was about to run past her, she stuck her hand out and passed him the note. Back in the car, we grinned through the rain-freckled window as we watched the runner saunter down the trail and take a peek at the letter he was now carrying in his right hand. It was a rush of good feelings as we drove away, nodding our heads to the music. Success.

The 26 letters project has been so much fun and created such a memorable day. I enjoyed it so much, I think I’m going to do it again next year.

Nah, I don’t want to wait that long!! I’ll do it sooner. 🙂 After all, there’s nothing as sweet as writing a love letter.

Overall this has been one of the best birthdays yet and I’m feeling really good about the year ahead!

If you would like to write your own love letters (which I highly recommend!!), check out this web page for some good tips: http://www.moreloveletters.com/starter-kit/

Here are some photos of the project and a great quote about letter-writing…enjoy, and thanks for reading!

“How wonderful it is to be able to write someone a letter! To feel like conveying your thoughts to a person, to sit at your desk and pick up a pen, to put your thoughts into words like this is truly marvelous.” ― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

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caught in the act

caught in the act

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SPREAD MORE LOVE ❤